Thursday, July 02, 2020

Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SEEKING A BALANCE: While determined to avoid an adversarial relationship with clubs, Laois manager Mike Quirke believes players who get knocked out of the club championship after the quarter-final stage and are to be part of our county squad should be allowed to start training collectively with the county. In today’s Irish Examiner he calls it as he sees it.

By Mike Quirke

I was in the car on the way down from Laois Monday night when I listened to current Offaly county chairman Michael Duignan on Newstalk talking about his disappointment with inter-county managers, the complicit county boards, and ultimately the top brass of the GAA for their handling of the club versus county situation that seems to be taking hold.

He bluntly challenged the GAA to “grow a pair of balls” when dealing with the issue. I couldn’t say I disagreed with the sentiment — in fact I thought he was spot-on with most of it.

However, as someone who is in the position of managing a senior county side, the current narrative is getting old in a hurry. This notion all inter-county managers and county boards are dealing with the current situation in the same type of bad faith is just not accurate based on my personal experiences.

So much so, that I would urge people to ‘grow a pair’ of their own and if they have actual proof that collective county training is going on right now, then call out those specific managers and county boards that are allowing this to happen in the strongest possible way, but spreading idle rumour and gossip as fact isn’t helpful to anybody.

Hearsay is as unreliable a currency as Bitcoin.

The reason I was in Laois this week was to meet with the coaches and managers of the club championship teams in the county and carry out a workshop alongside our strength and conditioning coach Tom Hargroves.

Our approach is not to force the county board’s hand or have an adversarial relationship with the clubs leading to a ‘them and us’ situation.

Instead we’re trying to support them as well as we can by providing best practice advice in terms of their physical preparation as well as suggesting some coaching content that can be integrated into their sessions to help improve their players’ skills and decision making.

There is nobody dictating to anybody and clubs are free to prepare their teams the way they see fit, which is of course the way it should be. But we as a senior management team want to make ourselves available to the clubs in the county to provide an extra support if they want it.

The county board has chosen to use most of the allotted time available to them to run the club competitions and are looking at a county final being played the first weekend in October, just two weeks before we play Westmeath in a crucial Allianz League Division 2 fixture.

In reality, that will afford us as a county team about two quality sessions where we will have all of our players available before competition.

Perhaps for other counties the league isn’t as important, but for us in the second division, most are still in the mix to get either promoted or relegated. Given the implications for relegation in 2021, these are our most important games of the season.

To that end, our performances as a county team towards the back end of the year will have as much to do with the quality of work the clubs do with their players between now and then as it will to do with us when we get back together with such a short window.

Our approach is about trying to positively influence the standard of work that is being done at that level and improve what clubs coaches are delivering to their players.

Ultimately, by concentrating our efforts on trying to help clubs rather than hinder them, the county is placing huge trust and responsibility on their shoulders, and our success or failure as a county team will be more determined by their efforts than ever before. I happen to think than can be a positive thing for a county like Laois.

Sure, I’d like to have had at least three clear weeks with everybody to prepare, but given that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m more than happy with the prospect of games at all and was more than willing to work with the county board and the clubs to try to find the best way forward for everybody involved.

The only dispensation I sought was to have those players who get knocked out of the club championship after the quarter-final stage and are to be part of our county squad allowed to start training collectively with us.

I would imagine, that shouldn’t be too much to ask for counties like Laois who are doing right by their clubs.

To reiterate the point, we as a county team won’t be doing any collective work of any kind before players are eliminated from the club championship in September. Players have GPS units and we can monitor their training load and possibly advise if they need to do a little bit more or a little bit less, but we won’t be seeing them for sessions until we’re supposed to. To that end, their challenge is to perform for their clubs, to be as diligent in their preparations for the club as they would be for their county and to meet the same high standards as they always strive for.

It’s possible that there may be players in the club championship who were not a part of our panel originally, but perform really well and put their hand up for selection with the county team — that’s the way it’s supposed to work and we’re looking forward to the challenge of finding those guys and managing the next few months as well as we can.

Finally, the notion of asking county teams not to train before September 14 but also saying there will be no sanction for those that break it is completely unfair on the rest of the counties who do intend to abide by the directive.

There’s a reason I stick the cruise control to 120km when I’m up and down the motorway, because the prospect of getting hit with a fine and penalty points doesn’t appeal to me in any way.

At the moment, this issue is like telling people that are driving on the motorway to please stick to the 120km limit, but there will be absolutely no police or speed vans monitoring it, so if you choose to go over it don’t worry, there won’t be any repercussions.

If we want people to adhere to the rules, there must be something there to ensure their compliance.

Laois were deemed to breach regulations around a training weekend down in south Kerry a number of years ago and were sanctioned by losing home venue for a league game the following season.

Not all counties are taking the same approach but all I can say from my perspective is that we are doing everything we can to work with the clubs so that the players can enjoy the best of both worlds and I’m more than happy to stand over approach.

For now, that’s as much as we can do.


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